Tis the season for conferences! I’m away from home for the third time this spring. This time in St. Louis for a retreat with my staff team – GFM Central. Here’s a glance at the schedule. Here’s a few things you could mention as you pray for us! Thank you.
Travel. People are coming from Iowa, Kansas and Denver!
Terrific time together! We’ve not met in person as a team since 2019!
Rich times in scripture and prayer.
Renewing friendships and partnership in the Gospel.
Four people (of our 11) are new to the team since we last gathered.
We’re reading and discussing a book – Leadership in the Crucible of Work
There will be three faculty members from the St. Louis area joining us as guests.
Sunday we plan to celebrate Palm Sunday together.
Local staff will have family members joining us for Sunday worship.
I’ll give you an update after it’s all over! Keep an eye on our schedule and pray when we come to mind. Thank you so much!
So this series has to end somewhere. No better place than the New Jerusalem. At some point redemption stops and eternity begins. Creation. Fall. Redemption. Now at last, Fulfillment! I could have kept adding episode after episode to the RE- series till WordPress would no longer let me write posts! But after ten I think it’s time we stick a fork in it! Not that we’re done experiencing redemption and renewal. But the best place for us to bring closure to a study like this is that day when eternity crashes into time and brings history to a full stop.
Two things (more than anything else) have helped me make sense of the last two chapters of my bible. One is the observation that if you read Revelation from a bible with cross-references in the margins, you’ll discover there’s hardly a phrase in the book of Revelation that doesn’t come from Old Testament prophetic books – especially Isaiah and Ezekiel. The second thing I’ve enjoyed in recent years of reading Revelation 21 and 22 is reading Isaiah 60 in connection with these two chapters. Richard Mouw’s book When the Kings Come Marching In was such a helpful find (assigned reading for Cultural Exegesis in seminary).
If you can’t track down Mouw’s book before you dive into Rev 21/22, at least do yourself the favor of reading Isaiah 60 with one eye… and Revelation 21/22 with the other. In fact, not to put too fine of a point on it, you’ll ALSO want to take a look at Genesis 1:26-31 (where you’ll find God’s first instructions to the parents of our human family). OK! That’s it. I know it sounds like a lot of trouble, but trust me, you’ll see some interesting connections. Once you’ve done that, you know the rest of the routine. You can access some background info at the PDF link that appears in Question 7 below.
When you think about who will be in heaven and what will be in heaven, what do your thoughts drift to first? Would you be bummed out if heaven turned out to be very different from how you imagine it? Why or why not?
Everything New – Rev 21:1-7
1- Verse 4 states “the old order of things has passed away.” List everything that seems to be part of this old order.
2- What is new? How does the old relate to what is new?
3- What does it mean that God’s dwelling place is now with his people? To John’s readers what might come to mind when they think about times past when “God dwelled among his people.”
4- What do you think life in God’s presence will be like? When you imagine it, what aspects of the old order will you especially be glad to part with?
Glory of the Nations – Rev 21:22-27
5- What is old and what is new in these verses?
6- John associates light and glory. How would you define the glory of God (recall Exodus and the tabernacle)?
7- John implies that the kings of the earth will bring the glory and honor of the nations into the Holy City (Viv 24, 26). What do you think he means by the glory and honor of the nations?
8- Skim through Isaiah chapter 60. Notice the many allusions John’s apocalypse makes to Isaiah’s prophecy. How do verses 6-7 and 11-13 in particular help us understand what John is showing us in Rev 21:24-26?
9-Richard Mouw identifies the glory of the nations as the cultural works of humanity (be they art, agriculture, technology, education, medicine, law or government). Humanity’s “filling up” of the earth in response to the cultural mandate (Gen 1:28) produces works of glory that one day find their place in the Holy City. What is your response to a vision of heaven that includes redeemed works of human culture?
Servants Reigning Forever. Rev 22:1-5
10- Again let’s ask, What is new and what is old in these verses?
11- The tree of life will bring healing to the nations. What might that look like? How might that happen?
12- How do we explain the tension between servants serving and servants reigning? Usually those who reign are served by those who serve.
13- How has John’s vision challenged your imagination of heaven? How does it give shape to your hopes (and perhaps your fears)?
RE- series study nine leads readers to a spot in the bible with two of the worst examples of verses taken out of context (by people who know them best). I could quote these two verses, man-splaining them till you cry “uncle”. Instead, lets do this inductively and start from the very beginning. It all began with with Moses trying to lead those Israelites through the wilderness.
“Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die here? There is no bread. There is no water. And we detest this miserable food” Numbers 21:5
God did not like the way they complained. He sent poisonous snakes that started biting and killing people. Moses repents on behalf of the community. But God reconciles with them in a very unusual way. “Moses, make a snake out of bronze and put it on a pole. Lets see how repentant these bitter-hearted people really are.” The only way the Israelites can avoid certain death from the snakes is to LOOK at the bronze snake on the pole when they got bit. If they do they’ll live. If they don’t believe it, they’ll die in their stubborn pride.
It worked! They still got bit. The bites were lethal. But not if they looked at the snake up on the pole. And that my friends is what it means in John chapter three to be born again. End of story.
Wait that’s not what that means!
Yes, it is. Being born again is what happens when you lose your life to the fatality of sin, you look in faith on God’s focal point of healing and forgiveness, and new life flows through your veins, chasing the toxins out!
And that my friends IS the backstory to what Jesus meant when he told Nicodemus, “You must be born again.” He’s a dead man walking because of sin (even though he was quite educated and served at a high level in a powerful religious institution). His forgiveness and healing will be provided by what Jesus does for him. But he will have to be re-born to experience it.
The other verse completely yanked out of context by evangelicals is the oft-quoted, seldom understood default bible memory verse. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” The reason we need to avoid worshiping a single verse is that our attention gets drawn to one selective idea without connecting it to the rest of the meaning. John 3:16 gets hauled in to set the record straight that Jesus died for our sins and if we just believe that we’re set. We’ll get eternal life after we die.
The point of John 3 is that we’re already dead (or at least as good as dead) and if we don’t understand what’s killing us we might not really understand how God heals us. Isn’t it funny how we can quote the 16th verse but absolutely nothing adjacent to it? Ever seen this verse on an inspirational poster in a Christian book store?
“Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe in him stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.” v18
The snake on the pole worked because God offered it as a redemptive focal point for fatally wounded, bitter-hearted complainers. He didn’t automate their healing. They were “born again” when in faith they did what they were told – when they LOOKED at the snake up on the pole.
I don’t believe a word of this Tim!
Ok, don’t take my word for it. Read John 3 for yourself. You know the routine by now (this is only the ninth time I’ve tried to get you to do this). Download a copy of the manuscript, look it over and mark it up paragraph by paragraph. Find some friends and use the questions below to discuss it.
1- What do you notice about Nicodemus’ approach to Jesus? What is he after?
2- What does Jesus want to talk with Nicodemus about? Usually Jesus experienced confrontation with religious authorities like Nicodemus. What do you think Jesus is trying to accomplish in this conversation?
3- How does Jesus’ idea of being born again by the Spirit compare to the way “born-again” gets used today as short-hand descriptor for a “genuine Christian”?
4- Jesus clearly implies that Nicodemus has not been born of the Spirit? How might you take that if you were Nicodemus?
Son of Man, lifted up vv 9-15
5- There’s a noticeable “we versus you” in Jesus’ statements to Nicodemus. Who is the “we” and who is the “you”?
6- Jesus reference to Moses and the Israelites in the wilderness seems to come out of nowhere. Bearing in mind that Nicodemus is an Old Testament Scholar to put it mildly, do you think he can make the leap from Numbers 21 to the Passion of Christ? (read Numbers 21:4-9)
7- Jesus refers to the Son of Man. Let’s assume Nicodemus understands that as Jesus referring somehow to himself. What would this identity claim mean in light of Daniel 7:13-14?
8- How does Daniel’s vision lend insight to Jesus’ comments about the kingdom of God in the previous paragraph?
Light has Come vv 16-21
9- Jesus’ identity is painted in several dimensions in this passage. Nicodemus understands him to be a rabbi or teacher (who could perform miraculous signs) v 2. Jesus implies he is the Son of Man in v 14 and that he is the Son of God (one and only). How does Jesus expect Nicodemus to keep up? Does Nicodemus believe what Jesus is claiming about himself? Why or why not?
10- How important is it today to help people grasp the identity of Jesus? Considering most don’t even have the head-start Nicodemus did, how can Christians build a case for who Jesus claimed to be?
11- Salvation is a work of the Holy Spirit. What challenges come with introducing non-believing friends to the Holy Spirit?
12- Being lost and in darkness is a blunt description of people who don’t believe in or follow Jesus. What do you think creates awareness of dire spiritual need among today’s highly educated and successful people?
If you’re looking for ways to support Ukraine, here are a couple of recommendations. Pray. And see if you can connect with Ukrainians in your vicinity. Just yesterday Cheryl attended two outdoor gatherings of support hosted by local Ukrainians. In fact each Saturday at 1:00pm, people have been collecting at 72nd and Dodge.
“It was really a great environment of affirmation, standing with local people who have connections with their family members back in Ukraine. I met several people who were so glad I came and offered to help hold flags and banners. I want to head out there every Saturday I can, so I can get reconnected with the same people and make some new friendships.” -Cheryl.
Later last night another crowd appeared at the Bob Kerry Pedestrian Bridge. “It was amazing – very cold weather – but I saw many of the same people as earlier in the day and they remembered me!” Cheryl would encourage you based on her (one afternoon of) experience, to just get out in your own community, find Ukrainians and start learning about them. Looking for ways to support them.
Maybe it’s just me. I have prayed and prayed for people to be healed of horrendous illnesses, physical and mental. You just can’t be a Christian, in ministry for very long (or otherwise), and NOT be swept into circumstances that threaten the people you lead or the people you love. In my early days on staff, we had to walk with one of our student leaders thorough his battle with testicular cancer (between his sophomore and junior year at Illinois Wesleyan University). We prayed fervently for Matt’s healing. We lost Matt to cancer in less than a year. Did our prayers and faith even matter?
Why did Jesus heal people? He used his power and authority again and again to restore life. Miraculous power brought to bear on the humblest of needs. Repeatedly it says Jesus would stay after class and heal everyone they could bring him! They bashed in a roof, just to get a paralyzed man to Jesus! Jesus also gave this power to his disciples. The early church saw people healed (Acts).
Where did all the healings go after the early church? Where are they today? Of course compared to Jesus’ day medicine is able to bring proportions of healing unimaginable in antiquity. But disease is still with us today. Young and old even in developed nations die unhealed – even on the watch of the most engaged doctors and intercessors. Why?
Restore, study number eight in our series, looks at two simple healing accounts in the Gospel of Mark. Let’s take a fresh look at Jesus healing. Why did he do it? Why did he leave many un-healed even though he had undisputed authority over disease? What do we make of prayers for healing today? Get a fresh copy of Mark 5 and jump in with your colored pencils! This study as well as RE-07 features the Marcan Sandwich (scroll down to that post for a study guide on sandwiching)! Let’s dive in.
Daughter Number One – vv 21-24
1- A father approaches Jesus about his daughter who is critically ill. What is important to notice about him and his family?
2- What would his fears be? Why is he so certain Jesus can heal his daughter (consider the typical reaction of other religious leaders to Jesus and his ministry)?
Daughter Number Two – vv 24-35
3- Describe the woman mentioned here. How would you describe the extent of her problem?
4- Take a minute to look up this Old Testament reference: Leviticus 15:25-30. How would this woman’s physical condition impact the risk she was willing to take to get to Jesus?
5- What do you notice about how her healing miracle actually takes place? What do you think is meant in verse 30 that “Jesus realized power had gone out from him?”
6- Why does Jesus tell her that her faith has healed her? Wasn’t it Jesus’ power that seemed to bring it about? 7- Discuss the various levels at which this healing act would bring restoration to this woman (physical, emotional, etc)?
Back to Daughter Number One – vv 35-42
8- Assuming the report about the girl’s death to be credible, why might it be difficult for Jairus to understand what Jesus tells him in v 36?
9- The clean and unclean theme emerges again. With Numbers 19:11-22 as a background, what are we learning about Jesus and his contact with things unclean? [He should not have been touched by a hemorrhaging woman. He should not have entered a home where a dead body was located.]
10- How does this miracle compare and contrast with the healing of daughter number two (vv 24-35)?
11- Why does Jesus make his miracle explicit in the case of daughter number two, but gives strict orders to keep the miracle a secret in the case of Jairus’ daughter?
12- Why has Mark so carefully intercalated (sandwiched) these two healing narratives? What is he showing us about Jesus’ purpose for healing? What dynamic between fear and faith is Mark painting for us?
13- How does Mark 5 impact us today in our understanding of healing, fear and faith? Is there a physical, emotional or medical threat in your life you struggle to bring to bring to Jesus?
14- What would it look like for you or your loved ones to draw near to Jesus with your particular needs? Fear is obviously cast as an enemy to faith in Mark 5. What would it take for you use your faith in the face of your fears?
For more background on the healings of Jesus and the concept of clean and unclean, refer to the following articles from The Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels and The New Bible Dictionary.
InterVarsity as many of you know belongs to the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students – a worldwide family of similar evangelical student movements. I wanted to let you know where you could connect to stay informed and give to regional needs. The link in the caption above will take you to the giving page where a fund is being publicized. Look for this image to scroll by in the banner. If you’d like to learn more about the IFES, you can visit their website here.
One of the very best ways to begin any ministry career! Cheryl and I along with two of our teammates from Downstate Illinois visited the IFES staff team in Vienna then staffed outreach projects in Cambridge, England and Arhus, Denmark.
“So Jesus called them over and began to speak to them in parables: … If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand. And if Satan opposes himself and is divided, he cannot stand; his end has come. In fact no one can enter a strong man’s house without first tying him up. Then he can plunder the strong man’s house.” Mark 3:26-27
I used to teach Mark Manuscript (aka The Jesus Class). I loved doing the first read of chapter 3. First read is when you tell everyone to read it like they’ve never read it before. In many cases, people hadn’t actually read it- some in the class were so new to Christianity and bible reading. Many who’d been Christians for years had forgotten that they’d read it. We’d get to the question about the parable Jesus used to describe his authority over unclean spirits. “If Jesus is using this parable to clarify his agenda, who is casting himself as – the strong man or the robber?”
“The strong man!” Almost always the first person to blurt it out in class opts for Jesus being the strong man. “He can’t be the robber.”
“And why not?” asks the teacher.
Blank stares. I always cherished the smell of students’ brains simmering with cognitive dissonance. Usually Jesus lost half my class with his illuminating parables. And I loved it.
You’ll notice this is the second time I’ve titled a redemption moment “Reclaim”. In RE -03, we looked at the lived-parable of Hosea’s life and calling. God was reclaiming his people from idols just like Hosea reclaimed Gomer from prostitution. Here in the New Testament Jesus reclaims what rightfully belongs to him. Reclaiming that which had been stolen. Let’s look at the passage together. Click on the link to download a fresh copy of the Manuscript. Let’s get started.
People are not a blank slate. When we invite non-Christians to consider Jesus, it’s not as though they are spiritual free agents just waiting to be recruited. People are deeply situated in their communities – virtual and real. They already belong. They already identify. And if they’re not Christ following believers, their belonging and identity are distinctly NOT Christian. Can we start there?
What seems to possess people today – what claim is on their identity and sense of self (from the outside)? Do you think people far from God first need freedom from default claims on them in order to even consider him? Or do they need (in some measure) to believe in God in order to get that freedom as a consequence of their faith? When I look at systems that have a deep grasp on people spiritually, two absolutely jump off the screen at me. Consumerism. And narcissism. Do you see that as well? What other sources of power suppress true spiritual freedom today?
When Jesus broke open his public ministry, the gospels show us what he really saw. He saw people as sheep without a shepherd. Harassed. Helpless. He also saw an entire spiritual power structure paralyzing people. Jesus wasn’t just a great preacher. He did more than restore broken bodies. He came to free people from real spiritual influences that severed them from finding their true self in him.
The set-up. Mark 3:13-19
1- What does Jesus authorize the Twelve to do?
2- What does this say about the role of authority in Jesus identifying and calling them?
The Sandwich. Mark 3:20-35
In this passage notice how the second and fourth paragraphs form a sandwich around Jesus’ teaching about exorcism. At first it might seem that Mark is merely reporting what is happening at the rapid pace with which he’s known for employing. Mark 3 contains the first of many events in his gospel he portrays in “Sandwich” format. Give vv 20-35 a fresh read and see if you can spot the slices of bread versus the meat in the middle.
The top slice of bread. Mark 3: 20-22
3- Jesus’ family and the Jewish authorities both have a problem with him. How are their issues with him similar? How are they different?
4- How would you describe the element of power or control in these verses?
5- Who or what is Beelzebul (v22).
Strong Man or Robber? Mark 3:23-30 (aka The Meat!)
5- Why would this be a good time for Jesus to break out in parables? He’s got two sets of people very mad at him. Two groups incredulous with his actions.
6- According to his first explanation about a divided kingdom, what is Jesus saying is NOT happening with public exorcisms he’s been performing?
7- Now on to Jesus’ second explanation. Who is Jesus identifying as the Strong Man? And who according to his parable is the robber (the one doing the plundering)?
8- In Jesus’ parable, who or what is being plundered?
9- How are verses 28-29 an answer to what Jesus is accused of in v 22? What are the consequences for the teachers of the law?
The bottom slice of bread Mark 3:31-35
Take a look at the study notes for this passage. Revisiting the idea of a sandwich, think about why Mark has crafted his narrative this way. The family once again pops into view.
10- Mark uses outsider/insider language in this section. Who are the outsiders? Who are the insiders?
11- Jesus has just redefined “family” on very different terms than family of origin. Why is that significant?
12- What is Jesus teaching his disciples through interaction with these two antagonizing groups (Jesus family of origin and the Teachers of the Law from Jerusalem)?
13- What can we learn about doing the mission of Jesus today in a world where people are not free to follow Jesus in discipleship?
Here’s a glance at the rest of the RE-series which will be getting wrapped up this spring. Stay tuned for a single volume PDF with the entire series (as well as a chart with links to the posts here on the blog).
I have never spent more than an hour our so in Atlanta (airport layovers). It’s a pretty cool place! Our regional leadership team meetings were held there last week. A few highlights…
Great food! We had Hawaiian, Indian, Mexican, Thai and Korean! (those are just the ones I can remember)
Really good to be with team-mates in person (two couldn’t be there due to Covid).
Nasal swabbing for rapid covid tests – an acquired sensation!
Time in scripture! Psalm 31/61 and 2 Cor 2.
Revisiting our strategic plan – The 2030 Calling
Having a meal in three different GFM staff member’s homes!
A very spacious Air B&B with plastic plants growing out of the walls!
My teammate Michael’s very cool Nike shoe collection (seriously a different pair every day).
I really appreciate the effort my regional leaders put forth to get our team together, to pray, and hear from God and each other. It does us so much good to revisit our goals and our leadership seeking God’s refreshing and resharpening. We typically spend four days together either in December or January. Covid has disrupted this greatly the past two years. So it was especially life-giving to be together. I always get to look at my work from a different angle when I’m with colleagues. Especially men and women who do my job better than me.
We would appreciate your prayers as we lead our staff teams into a new year. We took aim on several important items. Here are a few you can wrap your prayers around in 2022:
Planting witnessing communities on more corners of more campuses.
See more students and faculty respond to appropriate gospel invitations.
Increase staff recruitment w. emphasis on people of color and women.
Fully resource our work with adequate ministry partnership and financial support.
I’m eager to lean into our strategic plan in the coming days. I’m kind of itchy for results and momentum after being cooped up in this pandemic. Most immediately from the list above, I have two new staff that will be transitioning to my team in the weeks ahead. I‘ve written briefly about Sarah. In a future post I hope to introduce you to Chad who will be joining us in Ames, IA. Our team is planning an in-person retreat in St. Louis April 8-10th. That will be a high-water mark for us as we welcome Chad and Sarah. We also anticipate having our volunteer staff with us! That will be a team of eleven if we can pull it off! At some point our biggest threat to being together won’t be Covid, but ourselves! Feel free to start praying now!
Here’s my annual ministry partnership appeal. It’s helpful for me to know how you plan to connect with me in 2022. Most of you know the drill by now. If you need a few details on my budget check out my previous post. I would love to know if you’re able to help out next year like you did this past year. And I’d love to know if you’d be able to help with a small budget increase. This is also my chance to catch up with you if your address has changed or if you’ve had a major life event I should know about.
I’ll keep this link out here the entire month of December – my apologies if you get a little tired of seeing it. Each of the past three years I’ve tapped my base and gotten just a few more forms back each year. Let’s make this an outstanding year. I’d love to hear from everyone!
And that my friends is it. Have a terrific week! (probably the shortest blog post I’ve ever written)